Friday, February 5, 2010

Fun and Hockey Games

Title: Fun and Hockey Games
Authors: Rolf and Ranger

Part 1 – Michael and Eric

That was a GREAT last period. Too bad Matthew and Chris didn't quite make it," Mike said, pulling into the driveway of Todd's home.

"Yeah, it's too bad," Todd agreed quietly, getting out of the car without further conversation. The light was on in the living room, which meant that Stephen was probably waiting on him. He swallowed, gave a tight smile and wave to Mike and headed up towards the front steps.

Mike gave him a rather odd look in return, shrugged and backed down out of the driveway. He clicked the radio on once he was clear of the residential areas and sang along, half an eye on the dashboard clock. Eric was just finishing shift. With luck he would be home in twenty minutes, in time for at least a mug of tea and a chat before they needed to be in bed. It wasn't enough, but when you lived with a cop you were grateful for what you got.

He was surprised to turn into his own drive way and find the police cruiser already there. He pulled past and parked in the garage, pulling the door down before he headed into the kitchen. The look he got from Eric wasn't promising and his stomach started to rumble even though he couldn't think of what he'd done. He'd been in enough trouble to last a few months with death threats if something else happened too soon.

"You didn't have to stay tonight?" he asked as an opener, hanging his keys on the hook by the door.

"Obviously." Eric got up from the table, folding his arms which was the second storm cone. Eric was a big guy: in the blue uniform shirt he looked bigger still and the size of his chest and biceps was emphasised by the straining cotton. Mike stopped where he was and swallowed despite himself.

"What? I'm not late. The car's ok, I didn't speed, I know I didn't-"

"Don't mess around Mike." Eric said bluntly. "You were there together, I know exactly what happened."

"What?" Mike demanded, beginning to panic despite himself. "I didn't do anything, you can't have SEEN anything-"

"I thought we agreed you were going to start thinking before you acted?" Eric interrupted. "I thought we'd covered that a lot recently."

"Yes!" Michael said vehemently, the thoughts of the paddle still fresh in his mind even though the pain had long since disappeared across his backside. "I HAVE been, seriously!"

"Then tell me, young man, how you came to be at the hockey match with Matthew?" Eric said in the same, even tone.

Warning bells were ringing furiously but Mike couldn't tell in what direction the trouble was coming from. "Matthew? I picked him and Chris up from the gas station," Mike said, confused. "We all had tickets to the match, you know we purchased them together."

"I know exactly what was planned." Eric said unpromisingly. Mike looked blankly at him, with no idea what Eric was driving at.

"So we went to the match," he said, trying not to sound as uncomfortable as he felt. "We saw the match, you know we did, and I dropped Todd at home just now- Steve was there, you can call him!"

His voice was rising in panic, Eric heard it.

"Matthew." he reminded Michael. "I asked about Matthew. Why did you pick Matthew and Chris up from the gas station?" Eric persisted.

"Because they were there, they called me!"

"You didn't wonder why you didn't pick them up at home?" Eric asked, his eyebrows raising.

Michael could tell the trouble somehow centered on Matthew, but what he had to do with it he had no idea. "Chris said they both started walking towards the other's house and met up there, some sort of confusion on their parts," Mike sputtered, trying to remember if that's all that Chris told him. Thinking back along the night, he finally connected the events. "Why did you take them out anyway?" Mike finally asked, wondering what he'd gotten into.

"You didn't know," Eric said slowly, looking hard at Michael.

"Didn't know WHAT?" Mike asked in exasperation. "I didn't DO anything! You think I wanted to be in any more trouble right now? We just met up and went to hockey, I don't KNOW what you wanted with Chris and Matthew, Todd and I just watched the game and when we couldn't find you we went home-"

"Ok, ok." Eric sat down, no longer looming, and held out his arms. "It's ok, come here."

"I DIDN'T do anything." Mike repeated, not happy. Eric waited, hands outstretched until Michael came to him, then pulled Mike down into his lap.

"I'm sorry, I didn't realise."

Despite himself, shaking slightly as the adrenaline subsided, Mike buried himself in the hug being offered.

"Yes but WHAT didn't you realise?"

"Never mind." Eric told him. "Doesn't matter now."

Part 2 – Steven and Todd

Todd took a few deep breaths as he climbed the steps. He knew what the problem was with Matthew, the bigger question remained was did Stephen knows. The phone tree amongst the couples worked too fast most of the time.

The fact that the door opened before he reached it was a fairly good indication that the tree was alive and strong and growing far too far away from home.

"Hi?" he tried, coming up the doorstep with what Matthew and Chris would have derided as a very poor attempt at nonchalance.

"Hi yourself," Stephen said, kissing Todd before standing aside to let him in. "Enjoy the game?"

Todd shrugged off his jacket and took his time hanging it up. The question about the game held ominous undertones, even if it wasn't said in an ominous tone.

"It was good," Todd said, shutting the closet door. "We won in the last period after going into it behind by a goal."

"You didn't feel the need to leave when Matthew and Chris did?"

Todd felt himself starting to flush even as he looked swiftly up at Stephen. He was utterly useless at any kind of deception. Forget lying: even just mild dissembling would be good.  "Uhm...."

"So you did know," Stephen said in a surprised tone.

"Uhm," Todd said again, rather less hopefully.

"I'm surprised at you," Stephen said, looming large in the suddenly too small living room.

Todd let go of the closet DOOR looking up at him with distinct alarm. It had been bad enough being abruptly faced with Eric tonight. Who was also big and loomy when he felt like it.

"I didn't-"

"DON'T make it worse by lying directly to me," Stephen said sternly.

"I didn't lie!" Todd said, sitting down on the end of teh sofa mostly to get away from the looming. It was a mistake. Stephen looked still taller.

"I didn't say anything and I didn't lie to anyone-"

"Exactly. You didn't say a word, which means you went along with something you knew was wrong. You know exactly how we work, and you know our friends work the same way. Look at me when I'm talking to you, please." Stephen waited until Todd's eyes came back up to meet his. "That makes you a responsible party in tonight's event. What WAS your responsibility?" Stephen asked firmly.

"I couldn't say anything," Todd began, feeling distinctly shaken and with very little ground left under his feet. "It wasn't fair or any of my business -"

"Matthew made it your business the instant you knew he was going, didn't he?"

"What was I supposed to do?" Todd said in what was supposed to be calm reasonability and was actually approaching a whine. "If I went and said-"

"If you said what you were supposed to, which is either 'I can't go, I'll be in trouble too,' or 'you shouldn't go at all,' or 'I need to alert someone if you can't,' then you'd have gotten to the game, enjoyed it, and come home without having to worry about anything."

"If I said 'I need to alert someone' I'd get my jaw broken and rightly so!" Todd protested. "That's ridiculous!"

And who talks like that anyway? he demanded under his breath. He sometimes wondered if in his teens Stephen had ever had arguments with people in which he had yelled, "I need to alert someone that this is a completely unacceptable situation, which is beyond the bounds of common courtesy!

Maybe there had been a gang of them. They'd probably relied on Eric to keep their jaws intact or Rolf for sheer intimidation value- or possibly no one else in high school had ever understood what they were saying anyway.

"Matthew couldn't have broken your jaw over the phone," Stephen firmly. "That IS where you first heard he was going, correct?"

Pulled out of a fantasy of four incomprehensible tops in Grease style leather jackets, Todd gave him a guilty look.

"I-"

"You," Stephen said, pausing for effect, "may take yourself upstairs and get ready for bed. When you're done, pick a corner."

Oooooooooooooh that was not good. Todd gave him a look from eyes which Stephen noted had just doubled in size and taken on an expression that would have made Bambi jealous- and in Todd it was entirely unconscious too.

"I didn't DO anything- I didn't!"

"And that is exactly where the problem lies. Upstairs, right now," Stephen replied, pointing for emphasis. It was hard work to ignore the expression crossing his partner's face but it needed to be done.

There was no arguing with Stephen in that particular tone - or at least Todd had never tried it and didn't plan on trying it any time soon. He slid off the sofa and with as little guilty slinking as it was possible to manage, took himself upstairs.

Stephen let out his caught breath in long sigh, rubbing one hand across his forehead and eyes. He really didn't enjoy these confrontations but in their relationship, it was a fact of life.

Upstairs Todd sat down on the side of the bed and tried to summon up the will to undress. He hated Stephen to be upset with him. In fact he hated Stephen being upset full stop; it really wasn't something he did well at all. On the other hand, he knew perfectly well if Stephen came upstairs and found him still sitting frozen, things wouldn't get any better. He slipped his shoes off, unbuttoned his shirt and wished that he'd never listened to a word that Matthew and Chris had to say.

Stephen listened for the sounds of his partner getting ready for bed. When the light footfalls ended and the silence began, he waited a further ten minutes by the clock in the kitchen before he headed upstairs. That gave his partner plenty of time to think through the mistakes, but not enough time to make things worse or to get too upset.

The last few footsteps on the stairs were always the worst to listen to. Todd half turned and gave Stephen a look of flat out appeal, twisting his hands together.

"I didn't actually DO anything," he said as one last try. "It isn't my fault- they're both adults-"

"I didn't give you leave?....."

"Leave?" Todd said, confused.

"I didn't give you permission to leave the corner or to speak. Turn around, think about that question and what the appropriate answer is."

That was it. Todd felt his eyes start to sting ominously, turned back to the corner and shut them tightly.

Stephen took a further few minutes to get himself ready for bed, moving the chair away from the wall before taking a seat. "Come here," he said gently to his partner.

Todd took a rather shuddering breath and turned around to face him. He was sure - absolutely sure - that Matthew and Chris never fell apart like this in similar situations. And God only knew Joe and Rolf were ten times scarier than Stephen was ever capable of being. Stephen didn't do scary. He just did sad. And annoyed. And disappointed. Which was far, far worse.

Stephen put out his hand and waited for what seemed like twenty minutes for his partner to make his way across the bedroom. Taking his hand, he pulled him to his right side, keeping his hand in his own. "If you know someone in our circle of friends is doing something wrong, you're just as liable as they are for going along with it. You have a responsibility to keep yourself out of those situations, and if you find yourself in one, to get out as soon as you can. Just because you receive discipline in this relationship, it doesn't mean that you don't have a responsibility to take control when it's needed with friends."

"It's not up to me to tell Matthew what to do," Todd said with some outrage despite his position. "He wouldn't take it from me anyway, it isn't anything to do with me!"

"Whether Matthew listens or not is not your problem. All you had to do was refuse to go with him, or if you were serious about wanting to see the game, letting me know that Matthew was going to be there."

"I'm not going to do that!" Todd protested, near to tears. "It's NOT up to me to do that, it isn't fair!"

Stephen kept his voice calm and reasonable. "Rolf and Matthew use discipline in their relationship the same as we do. It is morally wrong for you to support Matthew in breaking their system, not only because you're their friend and care about their relationship, but because you understand exactly what's going on. I would be angry with Matthew if the roles were reversed and he helped you to subvert our system. Not because he's responsible for your behavior, but because as a friend he should point out when you're doing something that you shouldn't."

"It isn't up to him to be responsible for me." Todd said rather less convincingly, flushing in spite of himself.

Stephen kept the irritation out of his voice, not quite sure whether Todd just didn't get it or was refusing to get it. "I just said he wasn't responsible FOR you. You and Matthew are walking down the street and Matthew for some reason is buried in a book. You look up and see a post directly in his path. Wouldn't you say 'watch out Matthew?"

"Yes....." Todd said unwillingly. "But that's different."

"How is it different?"

"It's not making a judgment on what he SHOULD do - I can't be responsible for him, he's a grown up and he makes his own decisions."

"That argument is pure rubbish, and I'm ashamed you've even tried it," Stephen said, the calm and reasonable voice abandoned for the moment. "By that same token, Matthew is also grown up enough to know he should be watching where he's walking, not buried in a book. So you'll let him walk into a post, or worse yet, walk in front of a car and be flattened, just because, "he should be grown up enough and be able to make his own decisions at all times? Is that it?"

"It's not that childish!" Todd snapped back, stung. "It's not rubbish, either - we're ALL adults, we ALL make our own decisions, it's up to Rolf and Matthew what they do, not me!"

Stephen pulled Todd face down across his lap, knowing that they'd reached an impasse while Todd was worried about this spanking. He made quick work of the PJ bottoms, leaving them barely hanging on his partner's legs. It was at this point that he knew he had a firm hold on his partner's attention and that it was time for listening, rather than arguing.

"As a willing member in this relationship, you will NOT choose to support a friend in doing something you know to be wrong. Support means participating in an outright lie to others, or simply being silent. Is that clear?"

"That ISN'T fair," Todd said very unsteadily in a tone that told Stephen quite clearly that he was in tears. Not with panic or indignation, what ever he was saying: Stephen knew Todd's voice and body language well enough to be sure of that. Todd's voice was saying one thing: his body was saying something very different and it wasn't indignation.

Stephen landed four very firm swats before stopping again. "I didn't ask if it was fair, I asked whether I was being clear or not."

Todd burst into tears, too upset now to respond.

Knowing that was as much an answer as he'd get for the time being, Stephen tightened his hold on his partner's side and spanked him soundly. It wasn't a spanking that Todd would feel tomorrow, but there was enough smart and discomfort for him to do some serious rethinking on his earlier argument. He gave Todd a couple of moments to collect himself, then helped him upright, standing up himself.

"Corner." He watched as Todd made his way over to the corner, sobbing and far more subdued than earlier. Collecting the PJ bottoms from the floor, Steven dropped them on the bed and went into their bathroom, emerging a few minutes later with a cold washcloth, which he put on his nightstand.

Todd leaned against the wall and for a moment gave way to the sobs choking him. He could hear Stephen moving around the room but at this moment in time had no interest at all in what he was doing or why, smarting, sore and extremely unhappy. It took several moments before he began to get the tears under control, and a few moments more before he was able to swallow them entirely, rubbing at his eyes and his wet face as best he could. His eyes were stiff and sore and his jaw ached with the tension of crying.

"Come here baby," Stephen said softly from the bed.

Todd hesitated, struck to the gut as he always was by that particular tone of voice. And another part of him shaken, ashamed and right now not wanting to look his partner in the face.

"Come to bed."

It wasn't easy to turn around. Avoiding Stephen's eye, Todd went to him, staying at arms length.

Stephen was holding the pj bottoms open so that Todd could step in. Letting his partner pull them up himself, he waited until they were in place before sliding over to let him get into bed.

Todd lay down very cautiously, sliding under the covers and turning on to his side.

"Here," Stephen said, holding out the washcloth for Todd.

Todd accepted it and scrubbed at his face, still gulping slightly. He turned over, away from Stephen and put the washcloth down on the bedside table. he would have liked to have turned out the light, save that it not have been politic to do so.

"Come here, brat," Stephen said, pulling gently at Todd's side.

No, was pretty much the answer. Todd didn't move, not actually refusing but not helping either.

"Todd," Stephen said a little more firmly. "We need to finish our discussion.

"I thought we were done." Todd said softly, not wanting to argue nor to finish any conversation right now.

Stephen pulled until Todd rolled over and settled into his arm, albeit unwillingly. "You know we're not. Why were you spanked?"

"For going along with Matthew and Chris." Todd admitted, unwillingly.

"What did you leave out of that reasoning?" Stephen persisted.

"I don't know." Todd admitted, still too upset to think in too much detail about it.

"You're going to need to try harder than that."

Todd tried to slide away from him, tears welling up again in spite of himself. "I shouldn't have gone along with it. I'm sorry."

Stephen kept Todd where he was, not about to let the conversation be brushed under the rug. It was too important to let that happen. "Stop. Todd, stop." He hugged him close for a moment. "It's okay hon. Shhhh."

That was too hard to resist. Todd turned over into Stephen's arms and held on to him, burying his face in Stephen's chest for a moment.

"Why were you spanked?" Stephen said softly against Todd's hair.

"For going along with Matthew and Chris." Todd said unsteadily. "Helping."

"And why was that wrong?"

"I don't knooooooooooww...." Todd pleaded, unconvincingly.

"Yes, you do. Why was it wrong?" Stephen asked, pulling away to be able to see Todd's face.

Todd squirmed a moment before answering, looking up from underneath still damp lashes. "Because he's my friend and I didn't try to help him from being run over by a huge truck."

Stephen couldn't suppress the smile, taking a moment to choke down the laughter that threatened. "You don't need to stand in judgment of Matthew. Just as a friend, it's your job to point out something that's not right, or dangerous or whatever. And as YOUR friend….I wouldn't let Rolf hear you call him a huge truck…."

The smile he got in return was genuine. He kissed the soft lips and turned out the light.

Part 2 – Chris and Joe

Joe's face, when he walked into the arena corridor, had been a picture. And it wasn't one Chris wanted framed. The journey home had been way too short and horribly uncomfortable, and ended with Joe closing the car door crisply on the drive and giving Chris a look directly over the car roof that made Chris's mouth go dry.

"Go inside, pick a corner and wait for me."

Chris went swiftly into the house, if only to get away from the look he was getting. It was quiet inside, a fact he appreciated because he knew how quickly it was going to be lost. He headed into the kitchen and faced the corner, his stomach in knots.

Joe locked the car and went to finish putting away the mower: something that had been interrupted by Eric's call half an hour earlier. Eric was in for an interesting evening: if Joe was any judge the phone lines would be buzzing. He locked the mower in the garage and took a few moments more to water the planters before he coiled the hose away. He went inside to where his lover was standing very still in the kitchen corner, giving a clear impression of trying to vanish into the paintwork.

Joe let him stand there, went directly to the kitchen drawer and took out a wooden paddle, placing it on the kitchen table. He pulled out a chair along side it and leaned on the table, resting his weight on his knuckles.

"Christopher."

For the last couple of minutes all Chris could here in his own head was, "stupid, stupid, stupid, how could you be so stupid." The unmistakable sounds of the kitchen drawer being pulled open and closed made it impossible to think of anything else. When Joe said his name, any and all coherent thoughts fled and he was left with the rushing sound of impending doom. He turned slowly and tried not to squeak. "Yes, sir?"

"I don't think there's anything we actually need to discuss here, is there?" Joe asked mildly. "Do you think there's anything we need to discuss?"

Not good. Joe in his business tone, the paddle sitting on the table. And not a shred of ground anywhere within reach. He felt like the coyote in the Road Runner cartoons, scrambling about ten feet away from the edge of the cliff, open space below him and a definite, painful end.

"Christopher?" Joe said just as calmly.

"I....I..." Chris said helplessly, unable to even come up with the rest of a sentence.

Joe waited politely, one eyebrow raised while Chris stood and fidgeted. Chris flushed and finally said softly to the floor, "No, sir."

"No." Joe agreed. "It seems absolutely straight forward to me. You can't have had any doubts at all about the ethics of what you were doing. Do you have anything to say for yourself?"

"It won't happen again?" Chris said, more question than statement.

Joe shook his head, not sounding in the least annoyed or upset. In a way that made it far worse.

"You think?"

Being at least smart enough not say it, he did think, 'yeah, because Matthew won't be asking me again anytime soon'. His voice shaking, but a little stronger, he said "Yes, sir."

"Well you're going to have to explain that to Rolf." Joe said calmly. "And that's after you're done with me my lad. I'm not at all happy with you right now."

That snapped up Chris's head. Having to speak to Rolf wasn't a nice prospect at all. "Why do I have to speak to him?" he asked, panicked.

"Take a wild guess?" Joe invited.

"I didn't take the lead, Matthew did!"

"And you fought him, kicking and screaming all the way?"

"No, but it wouldn't have mattered what I'd said!"

Joe Looked at him

"Jooooeeeeee, you know it wouldn't have!"

"Did you make anything like a good decision?" Joe inquired, not responding to the whine.

Gulping, Chris shook his head no.

"You are going to be punished for making a decision you know perfectly well was a very bad idea," Joe said calmly, picking up the paddle. "You knew exactly what to expect as soon as you decided to do it. Drop them Christopher."

"But Jooooeeeeee," Chris whined, tears pricking his eyes.

Joe waited, paddle in hand.

"Not the paddle, plllleeeeeeeeassssseeeeee," Chris said, the reality sinking in just how upset Joe was with him.

Joe raised an eyebrow, leaning on the table to look at him. "Christopher. You want to explain to me how you don't deserve to be paddled?"

"I just went to the game, that's ALL. I can't decide for Matthew what he can and can't do!"

"Rubbish." Joe said crisply. "Be honest with me right now Christopher or we're done talking."

Since the paddle was waiting, Chris decided he had nothing to lose. "I just met him out, I didn't make it -I didn't -" Chris stamped his foot in frustration. "It wasn't my fault!" he finally finished.

"You knew," Joe said simply. "And I know that you did, because you were here the other day when Rolf called around. He talked to us both. You knew EXACTLY what the situation was. Did you talk to Matthew on the phone about tonight?"

Chris flushed redder still. "I talked to him on the phone, he was bored stiff."

"Yes or no Chris."

The attorney in Joe was coming out again, picking everything to pieces to get the answers he wanted. "...Yes."

"And you two planned this evening together?"

"NO, no," Chris said quickly, trying damage control. "He wanted to go, I just...I just went along with it. I didn't PLAN anything with him."

"How did you help him?" Joe inquired, not moving.

"I didn't! He told me what he was doing, I just went along with it."

"Ok, then how did you enable him Christopher?" Joe countered with the same tone.

The small ray of hope that had been growing was just put out again and the hole beneath his feet was getting steadily blacker and deeper. Struggling again for a way around the biggest problem was impossible. Maybe, just maybe if he gave in, Joe would take pity on him. "I shouldn't have talked to him at all."

Joe waited, still leaning on the table with his hand on the paddle. "And?"

"I should have said something to you," Chris said, his head dropping.

"Do you chat on the phone when you're grounded?" Joe inquired.

"No, sir."

"Think Mathew and Rolf work any differently?"

Chris shook his head no.

"Do you go out when you're grounded?"

"No," Chris said, angrily wiping away a stray tear.

"If I knew you were talking to, or going out with, someone who we both knew perfectly well was grounded Christopher, what would I say?"

"I was stupid to do it."

For the first time Joe's voice sharpened enough to make Chris jump. "I have NEVER called you stupid Christopher, I never WILL. WHAT would I say to you young man?"

Chris gulped. "Not to do it, sir." He fought mightily against the urge to burst into a sobbing mess.

"Not ONLY would I have said not to, I would have made you stop it at once and both you and Matthew would have been in trouble. Why?"

"Because I KNEW IT WAS WRONG!" Chris shouted, turning his distress into anger.

"Why is it wrong?" Joe said in exactly the same tone, not moving an inch.

"Because we do it too," Chris said quietly and Joe agreed.

"How would you feel Chris, in Matthew's position right now? Or Rolf's? You lot are not kids. You KNOW first hand what it's like to be angry or upset and think something's a good idea, and you know too what you need to hear from the people you love at that point. People who understand how we choose to live and why."

Chris took a long time to answer. "What's right, not what's fun."

"You can listen, you can support, you can understand how it feels to be hearing no and trying to deal with it - God knows that isn't easy. What you don't do is aid and abet a friend already in that difficult position to make a bad situation a lot worse! What about the trust you two managed to damage tonight?"

Chris sniffled once, his voice choked a bit. "I didn't mean to help make things worse. He just really wanted to go."

That was the most honest and least defensive thing he had said so far this evening, and despite himself Joe's eyes and voice softened in response.

"And it's hard to see a friend upset and frustrated." he said more gently. "But that wasn't what he needed from you, and you know it. It's easy to be popular Chris, anyone can say the easy things."

Chris stepped quickly over to Joe and buried his face against his chest, sobbing. Joe put an arm around him and cupped a hand behind his head for a minute, but it was only a minute before he gently put Chris back and made him look up.

"Do you think it's ever a good thing to help someone to do something you know is going to hurt them?"

"No, and I'm sorry."

"You owe that apology to both of them,." Joe said gently but pointedly. "I know how I'd feel about anyone getting between us." He saw the slight nod that Chris gave. "It's as disloyal to Rolf as it is to Matthew. You don't get between a couple Chris. But that isn't why you're getting paddled. You want to tell me why that is?"

"I knew better," Chris said quietly.

"Yes." Joe agreed. "But that isn't all of it. You planned this behind my back, you went out tonight under false pretences, it damages the trust between us when you are not honest with me."

Chris's head dipped lower, Joe's words hurting. Joe looked at him for a minute, seeing that he'd made all the impression he intended to. Drawing out the chair behind him with a foot, he sat down and once more picked up the paddle.

"Drop your pants Chris."

Chris took a few slow steps towards Joe, his hands working with his button. He let his pants drop and didn't pull on his underwear until Joe sharply prompted him to do so. It took all his self- possession to bend across Joe's lap.

Joe wrapped an arm around his waist and drew him a little further forward, moving Chris well clear of the table legs, then took a firmer grasp on the paddle and applied it crisply to the bare bottom upturned over his lap.

Chris yelped at the first swat and tried holding his breath against the next two, the paddle's sting steadily building in intensity. Knowing these were only the first in a long line of swats, Chris gave into the desire to squirm and complain bitterly about how badly he was hurting.

It always took a good deal of conviction and effort not to listen to that familiar and loved voice in pain and protest, and it was never easy. Joe held Chris too firmly to let him struggle and used the paddle swiftly and hard, with sufficient strength behind each swat to rapidly create the redness and the fervency of response from Chris that was necessary.

Chris was sobbing incoherently by the time the paddle stopped falling, positive in mind and body that he'd never again go along with anything anyone else said no matter what. He dropped to his knees, trying to catch his breath when Joe let him.

Joe steadied him for a moment, then put the paddle down on the table and put both hands around Chris's head, running his fingers through Chris's hair slowly and with comforting calmness.

When the blinding pain settled into something more manageable, Chris worked on trying to breathe, appreciating Joe's touch a lot more at the moment than earlier. He got to his feet and struggled to kick off his shoes so that he could step out of the pants he had zero desire to put back on. It took several tries and a steadying hand by Joe to keep him from falling before he was free and able to make his way over to the corner.

Joe watched him for a moment, then when he was sure Chris was starting to calm, put the paddle away and glanced at his watch. In a few moments he intended to get them both to bed, finish this difficult evening and leave it in the past where it belonged.

He could only hope in Eric's, Stephen's and Rolf's homes, things were equally beginning to settle down.

Part 4 – Matthew and Rolf

"I mean it." Rolf said, putting a hand across the door to block Matthew getting past and evading his eye. "Bed tonight by ten, I'll be home Sunday morning."

Matthew managed something approximating a sullen nod and followed Rolf out to the car, watching him sling his overnight bag into the trunk.

"I'll call tonight, let you know I made it in. I'll be busy all day Saturday but if you need something call me and if I don't answer right away I'll call you back. Make sure you eat and that it's food, not junk." Rolf put the rolled up drawings into the back seat and shut the door.

"No computer or-"

"I KNOW," Matthew snapped, his short temper getting shorter still. He gulped when Rolf pulled his arm, thinking he was about to getswatted. Instead, Rolf's lips closed on his in a hungry kiss that took his breath away.

Once he was released it took a moment to remember what they'd been talking about and his expression was caught half way between a pout and a realisation that however mad he was right now, Rolf being away overnight was never exactly a GOOD thing.

"Behave," Rolf told him, taking extremely mean advantage. "I'll see you Sunday." He snatched another, quicker kiss and Matthew stepped back, folding his arms to watch him get into the car and back it down off the drive.

Once Rolf was out of sight, Matthew went back into the house, slamming the door soundly for good measure since Rolf wasn't there to correct him for it. He flopped onto the couch and stared daggers at the television, wondering how he was going to fill a Friday night alone.

Not finding anything interesting on the television, he headed into the kitchen and tried to come up with something approximating dinner. Finding nothing that sounded good, he picked up the phone and called the local pizza delivery and within an hour was stuffed and miserable from too much pizza.

The basic fact stood: that he was mad with Rolf. Thoroughly and seriously mad with Rolf. Who was now in another state for the weekend, which was not at all good when you wanted to yell, sulk where it actually had some kind of effect, and make up until you felt better about things.

The row last night had been short, fierce, and Rolf had won it hands down. He usually did. Matthew had let his temper get the better of him and said something he didn't mean. Rolf took exception to it and here he was, stuck inside for the weekend with a very looked forward to hockey match out of the question.

He tried finding something good to watch on television but in his current mood nothing was going to work. Figuring maybe a hot bath might help him relax, he ran the water and put in more bubbles than necessary. When the bubbles were even with the edge of the tub, he stepped in, and moving them as best he could to the side, slid down to his neck in the deep tub.

It was not fair. It was hugely, horribly unfair. This was the biggest game of the season; he and Michael and Todd and Chris had taken tickets weeks ago, and in ten awful minutes Rolf had axed it as though it didn't matter in the slightest. And now here was Matthew, alone for the entire weekend, computerless, phoneless save for emergencies.

A cat climbed up onto the side of the bath and patted at the bubbles - and at that moment, the phone rang.

Matthew stood up, dripping water in rivers. The cat took off and Matthew grabbed a towel for cover, going into the bedroom to pick up the phone. "Hello?"

"It's me," Chris said cheerfully. "Has he gone?"

"Yes, about two hours ago."

The tone of his voice spoke volumes. Chris hesitated for a moment, then said more sympathetically, "Rolf came round last night and told us you were grounded. I'm sorry about the game."

"Great. Nice. Wonderful." Matthew was getting chilled so he headed back to the bathroom and got back into the tub. "Nice to know everyone knows."

"Sorry." Chris sympathised. "What did you say to him? He wasn't specific and it must have been something pretty bad for him to cut the match."

"I called him a......a bastard,' Matthew confessed. "He just made me SO angry, he wasn't listening to what I was trying to say!"

"You did......." Chris trailed off in disbelief, then laughed. "I don't know how you dare Matt, I really don't! I could NOT stand there and say that to his face!"

"If I stopped to think I'd feel the same way. It just happens sometimes. DAMNIT I wish I hadn't."

"It's a shame about the match." Chris sympathised. "How badly were you grounded?"

The match is enough. Just this weekend but it's THE hockey match of the year. They're going to fight, I just know it and I'm going to be sitting here doing Jackshit!" Matthew punctuated the end of the sentence with a slap in the water, instantly regretting it. Wiping suds from his face and spluttering, he grabbed the towel and cleaned the phone. "Still there?"

"Just." Chris said wryly. "There isn't much you can do, sunshine. When are you expecting Rolf home?"

"Sunday morning. He won't be around at all...on...Saturday."

Chris was silent, well aware of what was in Matthew's mind. It would have been in his too.

"Do you still have my ticket?"

"Yes......." Chris said slowly. "But you'd be mad. Joe's going to keep an eye on you this weekend, you know he will-"

"I'm not supposed to be on the phone, so I won't answer if he calls. I can leave the tv and light on in the bedroom, make it look like I'm there IF someone does a drive by. They know you'll be at the game, as long as no one has a car here they shouldn't bother me...."

"Joe will call on the answerphone until you pick up." Chris said dubiously. "Rolf always does me. And do you really want more trouble?"

We can go at the last minute and I can be safely home by ten without worry. If they go into overtime I'll just have to miss it. Just leave earlier, that way Joe may call me right before I leave. That will work."

"You'll get shot if you're caught......." Chris warned.

"I didn't mean what I said, besides, he's being extremely unreasonable anyway. I won't get caught. Was it Mike that was going to drive?"

"Yes." Chris glanced at the scribbled note on the phone pad which Joe had taken for him yesterday evening. "He was picking me up here at six and then coming over for you - THAT will have to change for a start."

"You could get lost for longer than that. Tell Joe you're meeting everyone for a bite to eat. Take a walk, then have Mike pick us up at the gas station on the corner of Oak and Timberline. That way no one is seen here, you've left early and Joe should call sometime after you leave."

"If he misses you and finds out, I had nothing to do with this?" Chris warned.

"Of COURSE," Matthew said, sitting up straighter in the tub. "It'll be fine, I promise. Maybe I'll even call Joe myself if he doesn't get around to it. He knows I'm mad."

"That would work." Chris agreed, glancing warily out of the window where Joe was pushing the mower on the front lawn. "I don't think we should get Mike involved though."

"Yeah, I suppose so. I was shocked when we heard he was going."

"He's not grounded now," Chris said rather wryly, since Mike's recent troubles were well known to them all. "Although I think he's got about an inch of lead different to grounding and he said Eric warned him, if he put a foot wrong he'd be grounded again for the rest of the month."

"Eric's being thoroughly unreasonable too. Wonder if it's something in the air. Hopefully he doesn't know my problems."

"Mike might not." Chris warned. "Eric does. Rolf told Joe he'd warned Eric you were grounded and Eric said he'd drive by the house after his shift tonight and tomorrow night and check the lights were out and you were ok."

"Lovely. I need one of those fake people to stand in the fucking window so everyone can SEE I'm okay. Look, I'd better go before someone calls and wonders why the line has been busy. I'll see you at the gas station about 10 to seven, that should get us into the game right about the time the puck drops."

"I'll be there. And I'll warn Todd. Just leave Mike out of it and for pete's sake be careful." Chris warned. "See you tomorrow."

"Bye." Matthew hung up the phone and dropped it carefully beside the tub. He felt marginally better having talked to Chris for a bit, but only marginally.

The rest of the evening dragged on forever. Grateful that at least Rolf had left the tv to be used, Matthew surfed and watched videos and went to bed at ten out of sheer boredom. Rolf rang late that evening, sounding tired, and by then Matthew was so bored that he was grateful for the company, although at the same time annoyed still more to hear Rolf's voice.

"Hallo Sport. Did I wake you?"

"No." Matthew said grudgingly. "Too early to be asleep. In bed because I'm so damned bored."

Rolf rubbed his temples, having mistakenly thought Matthew might have calmed down some. "I don't want to hear it Matthew. Did you get any of the chores done this evening?"

"No." Matthew said still more grudgingly. "Watched tv. Couldn't go out. Or do anything interesting."

"You know why that is -"

"That DOESN'T make it any better!" Matthew snapped.

"That is ENOUGH young man. I called to let you know I was here at the hotel and doing fine. I hope that after a good night's rest you're feeling a little better. Sweet dreams."

"You might at least TALK to me," Matthew protested. "It's bad enough you're not here-"

"Can you be civil?" Rolf interrupted.

"I AM being civil." Matthew snapped back.

"I'm not going to sit and listen as you snap at me. You're in enough trouble as it is, I wouldn't push it anymore now. Get some rest, we'll try this again tomorrow night. I love you."

"Rooooooooooooolf......." Matthew said pitifully.

"Get some rest. Goodnight, love," Rolf said, wanting nothing more than to pull Matthew into his arms and make things better. Being away from Matthew was hard enough but to have him upset was even worse.

Phones were horrible things. Matthew didn't answer, not wanting at all to say the words that would end the call and hoping that Rolf might continue to talk.

"Are you going to make me hang up without a word?"

"Nooo…." Matthew said pathetically. "I don't want you to hang up at all."

"Say goodnight Gracie," Rolf said, one of their pet phrases they used.

Matthew blinked on eyes suddenly full of tears and an urge to plead that Rolf came home tomorrow night instead of Sunday, to forget all about the hockey altogether.

"It's going to be all right. Sweet dreams. Goodnight." Rolf clicked off the phone but didn't turn it completely off. Matthew should be fine but the phone was available if he needed it.

Matthew held onto the phone a moment more, struggling with tears. It was some time before he could put it down, feeling still more horrible than he had before Rolf called. The weekend was vile. Horrible. And it was going to go on forever.

Matthew slammed the phone down and lay back, blinking hard to control the stinging in his eyes. Hockey. He was damned well going to GO to the hockey and it was entirely Rolf's fault.

He curled up, pulling the covers up to his chin and concentrated on not crying. He was surprised to wake up the next morning with the sun streaming into the window.

Getting up, he fed the troops first, then rummaged until he found something for breakfast. Being grounded meant he hadn't been able to go out and stock the house with the foods he chose to eat when Rolf was gone. He finally settled on a bowl of grits in front of the tv.

It was the start of another long, tedious, boring, horrible day.

Rolf had left enough chores to fill the day, including several Matthew recognised as pure 'time fillers' as opposed to genuinely necessary. He sat for some time looking at the list with increasing rebellion. None of them were things he wanted to do.

He finally decided to start on a few, using them to assuage some of the guilt he was feeling about wanting to attend the game. And at least they passed the time. He stopped several times to check out what might have been on tv but as usual, nothing looked good. He finally turned that off and turned on the stereo at full blast, able to hear it anywhere on the first floor. The cats wore long suffering expressions, but at least it was something that lifted mood. Hour by hour time wore by and Matthew grew both increasingly edgy and increasingly excited. It WAS a match he badly wanted to see, and one he had been looking forward to.

At four he stopped, pleased with the progress he had made on the list. Not everything was done but it was a fair amount. He fixed himself some dinner, cleaned up afterwards and then jumped in the shower. He stood in the closet for some time trying to decide which jersey to wear, finally settling on the one he'd bought in the last year's charity auction. He watched the time slip by, thinking about Chris already having left the house. He waited nervously for the call he expected from Joe.

The phone at last rang at approaching six-thirty, and Joe waited through the answer phone message, calling cheerfully enough.

"Matthew. It's Joe, pick up please."

Matthew picked up the phone, slightly shaky in spite of himself.

"Hi."

"Everything ok?" Joe asked kindly. "What are you up to?"

Gathering his anger together to help cover up his nervousness, Matthew replied, "the mile long list that Rolf left me. Not like there's anything else to be done."

"And how much is done?" Joe asked, unabashed.

"Enough. Is Chris off to The Game?"

"Yes. What are you going to do with your evening?"

"Stare at the walls for another evening I suppose. Sound like fun?"

"I'll come over for an hour now that Chris is gone then." Joe said without sympathy. "Give you a hand with the yard work."

Matthew panicked for a moment before he could speak. Deciding that getting mad and hanging up on him would assure a visit, he swallowed hard and spoke in what he hoped was a normal tone of voice. "Thanks, that's ok. I got that done this morning since I hate it so much."

"I can come over any way and keep you company." Joe said more gently since Matthew sounded a good deal less irritable. "Would that break up the evening?"

Matthew wanted nothing more than to tell Joe where to go, in fear of his plans being foiled. Joe was making that harder being so nice about it. "Thanks, it's ok. I'm not in a very good mood, I'd rather sulk in peace if it's okay with you."

To his relief Joe didn't press it. "All right." he said mildly, "If that's what you want to do. Make sure you're in bed at a reasonable time and have something decent for dinner, hmm? What time are you expecting Rolf tomorrow?"

"He said before lunch probably. Just didn't want to leave after a long day's work."

"Call if you need anything. Goodnight Matthew."

"Goodnight," Matthew said, hanging up the phone. He took a few minutes to try and settle himself, the adrenaline rush still working through his body. He went around and fed the cats and cleaned up after them, then made sure the bedroom light and television was on for anyone running by before he got home.

When he left the house, everything was ready and nothing was on his mind but the hockey. He met Chris at the gas station and Mike came by a few minutes later to collect them, Todd already in the car. From Todd's expression he knew: Chris had no doubt explained – but Mike chattered with no idea whatever, and within a few minutes Matthew forgot all about the illicitness of the trip and just enjoyed himself.

The arena was full and the game, long awaited, was excellent.

They missed the drop of the opening puck, but the fight that erupted within the first five minutes occurred just after they'd seated themselves. Matthew and company joined in with the crowd and chanted "Ref you suck!" when the home team was penalized 17 minutes to the opposing team's 5. They watched as the opposing team took the first lead, scoring on the two minute minor and silencing the crowd. The chant broke out again for a moment, then all was quiet again.

"Anyone want a drink?" Matthew asked, looking down the line of friends.

"Coke." Chris said cheerfully. "Mike? Beer?"

"Are you kidding?" Mike said wryly. "Right now I'm keeping Eric VERY happy. Coke will be fine thanks."

Matthew grinned at him and ran up the steps with Chris following.  Mike settled back in his seat, preparing to enjoy the next action when he heard someone coming down the steps and glanced over. The sight of the tall, broad shouldered figure in a police uniform was always a welcome sight. Mike straightened up in surprise, grinning.

"Eric! I thought you were on duty!"

"I am." Eric said, moving to let Mike make his way into the aisle to talk to him. "Just came to say, I was pulled onto the arena duty and I'm here. How's the game?"

Todd blanched, looking back quickly to make sure Matthew wasn't yet coming back.

"It's good, did you see that fight?" Mike asked.

"No, didn't see it. I just wanted to let you know I was here and should be home a bit earlier than I told you before. I'll let you get back in your seat before I get yelled at for blocking the aisle. Enjoy yourselves." He nodded to Todd and headed back up the steps as Mike got back into his seat.

"I can't believe you dropped that coke!" Matthew said cheerfully, walking down the short corridor before the steps. Matthew dropped the one from the front of the paperboard tray he was carrying when he looked up to see Eric blocking the end of the tunnel. He saw the expression change rapidly from genial police officer to someone else Matthew knew a lot better. Matthew stared at him, his mouth open in blank horror.

"Matthew." Eric said eventually. "Chris, can I have a word with you two please? Let's go out in the hall."

Chris turned and led the parade out of the tunnel, Matthew following, white as a sheet. He was still holding the wet tray, one drink at a precarious angle. Eric took two quick steps and removed the tray from Matthew's hand, dumping it in the nearest trash bin.

"What are you doing here Matthew?"

"Wa....watching the game," Matthew said, his voice shaking.

"And Rolf knows you're here?" Eric said shortly.

It was over. He was dead. About as dead as a person could be. Lying at this point wasn't going to help matters, even if it couldn't get any worse. "No."

"Christopher, does Joe know that Matthew is with you?"

"I don't know," Chris said unsteadily, unable to meet Eric's eyes.

"Then let's ring him and find out." Eric said shortly, pulling out his phone.

"Chris has nothing to do with this," Matthew said quickly, seeing the panic in Chris's face.

"Chris knows you're grounded, and so does Joe." Eric said, dialing rapidly. "Joe? It's Eric. I've got Christopher and Matthew here at the arena together. Yes. No, I didn't think so. Yes, I'll have them at the front and I'll call Rolf. Thanks." Eric clicked the phone shut and said crisply, "Come with me."

Chris and Matthew exchanged glances and followed behind Eric's quick march pace. They were on the far side of the arena and between fear and the quick pace, both boys were trying not to pant by the time they got to the front area. It was mostly deserted, only a few workers left to help the latecomers in and the sounds of the game muted through the corridors.

"Face the wall." Now," Eric rapped out when the boys hesitated. Feeling almost like criminals the two young men turned and faced the wall.

Not daring to move, Matthew stood and wondered what any passers by would think. They seemed to be standing there for hours. Eric's radio buzzed a few times and once he spoke into it, but otherwise there was silence and they stood- and stood- and stood until finally Joe's voice said shortly from behind them, "Christopher."

Chris gulped and turned around, watching Joe take the last few steps towards him. He almost giggled in pure fear, thinking Joe would just go ahead and spank him right there. He didn't hear the few words that Eric and Joe exchanged, just started walking when Joe pulled on his arm. He didn't have enough brain cells free to worry about what the night would hold for Matthew.

"Come with me," Eric said, making his way back down the corridor until they reached a door marked private. Eric held it open and Matthew headed inside, finding it to be a small office that appeared to be used by the security force.

Eric shut the door behind them, pulled out a chair and pointed to it.

"Sit down young man. You'll wait here until I can leave, and I'll take you home. I don't want to hear a sound from you."

Matthew dropped into the chair, stomach in his boots.

Eric headed out the door, leaving Matthew alone in the small room. He immediately dropped his head on his arms across the desk, fighting hard the desire to cry. He didn't know if anyone else would be coming into the room.

He was left alone for nearly an hour's agonising wait, with nothing to do in the room but hear very far away the occasional roar of the game. No one came into the room, although several times police in uniforms passed the door. Eventually Eric opened it and Matthew looked up at him, not at all reassured by the disapproval on Eric's face.

"Come on. I'll take you home."

Matthew followed Eric through some areas that the local public wasn't allowed to go. They exited through a tunnel into a side parking area open only to arena personnel. He got into the front seat and buckled up, careful to not touch anything.

Eric drove without a word to Rolf and Matthew's home, pulling up into the driveway and turning his cruiser off. Matthew stepped out and led the way inside, fumbling with the keys.

Eric waited while Matthew opened the door and put the lights on, then shut the door behind them and took Matthew into the kitchen, pointing to a kitchen chair and taking the phone off the hook.

"Rolf's cell number."

There was no sense in stalling. Matthew gave it without looking up and listened to Eric dialing.

"Hi Rolf, it's Eric. Yes. Matthew's fine. I've just brought him home from the arena. Yes. Ok. Yes. All right. Safe drive."

He hung up the phone and Matthew looked up, mouth dry, thoroughly miserable. There was no sympathy in Eric's face at all.

"He's on his way home now and will be about an hour. He says to get ready for bed, sit here and wait for him, he'll be home before eleven."

"Yes, sir," Matthew managed, just holding on without crying.

"Have you eaten?" Eric said shortly.

"Y..yes. Before I left."

"All right. I need to head home. Rolf shouldn't be more than an hour, go get ready for bed. And I wouldn't be anywhere else but sitting here when he gets home."

Matthew got up quickly and without a word headed upstairs. He stood in the shadows, looking out the window until Eric's car left the driveway. He slid down the wall, giving into his tears.

He stopped ten minutes later, exhausted and worried about Rolf's arrival. Getting to his feet he mechanically got a shower and somehow even managed to brush his teeth. He returned downstairs and tried sitting in the kitchen to wait. He couldn't sit still, getting up and pacing the kitchen, his mind going through all the various options of his impending death. How had he managed to convince himself this was a good idea?

What had been - really - a relatively minor problem, something nearly over and done with - was about to become a huge big ugly mess. He couldn't have done anything much more stupid or provocative or if he was honest, downright defiant to Rolf if he'd sat down and thought about it. And he knew exactly what Rolf was going to make of it too. There were certain times, certain days when Matthew had fun being a brat. When he was in a playful mood, he had fun baiting Rolf and staying one step ahead of a swat that he could tell Rolf so wanted to deliver to him. On other days, he just frankly appreciated the support that Rolf gave him to do things he either didn't want to do himself, or couldn't make himself do. Going back to school was always going to be high on his list of reasons why he appreciated the discipline aspect of their relationship. Then there were days like today that he wished he'd never even heard of the word discipline, never mind lived in a relationship where it was a constant. He loved Rolf, but something was going to have to change if they were going to go on together.

And so Matthew's thought spiralled out of control. He was certain Rolf would never want to see him again five minutes later and after chewing on that thought for a few minutes, his heart beating faster than he thought possible, he picked up the phone.

Rolf sounded clipped and out of patience: not at all an encouraging tone. "Monet."

Matthew quickly hit the disconnect button, tears pricking his eyes.

He sat staring at the phone for a moment, then got up, planning to grab his jacket and go somewhere. Anywhere at all. Then the phone rang where it lay on the table. Matthew slowly released the breath he'd caught, torn between fear that it was Rolf, and anger that it was someone else and he wasn't supposed to be on the phone anyway. On the third ring he finally grabbed it, gruffly saying "Hello?"

"Matthew?" Rolf said on the other end. "Did you just call me?"

After a short pause, Matthew said "It depends on whether or not that means you're even more angry at me."

Rolf didn't answer that. Matthew could hear the sound of the car on the road, the whisper of the air conditioning, and Rolf's voice, still quiet on the other end of the phone. "What's the matter?"

Matthew sat down, his lip quivering and the tears threatening to fall again. That was the voice he loved, the one he wouldn't hear again anytime soon. It became too much to think about and it just spit it out, sobbing as he said it. "You hate me now."

"How did you work that out?" Rolf asked mildly. "Matthew?"

"Because I went to the game after you told me not to," Matthew said after a pause. "I might as well have just said 'fuck you!"

"I agree, although I could do without the language." Rolf shifted the phone to the other ear, turning the air conditioning down.

Matthew had expected something more than just being casually agreeable to what he said. It left him without any energy to get angry and nothing to fight against. "I didn't mean to just..to just go."

"Want to tell me what did happen?" Rolf said without heat. "I don't think you went by accident."

"I was just angry. It was supposed to be THE game of the season and you just said no. Then you left! And I'm supposed to do all these stupid chores and just BE here!" Matthew stood up, pacing the kitchen as he spoke.

Rolf's answer was immediate but still quite calm, just as if Matthew wasn't yelling down the phone at him. "Why?"

"Because I opened my stupid mouth!" Matthew said, flopping face down on the couch in dramatic fashion.

"And?" Rolf said mildly.

"I wasn't very nice," Matthew finally managed, calming down in spite of himself.

"Is that how we talk to each other?"

"No," Matthew admitted quietly. "But it was all extenuating circumstances, you know I didn't mean to say any of it."

"Do you think I ever get mad or upset or frustrated?" Rolf inquired, pausing at an intersection by a red light.

"Yes, I know you do."

"Would that make you feel ok about me talking to you like that?"

"No."

"No?" Rolf said mildly.

It was his 'if you think you're getting to opt out of the tricky questions forget it' tone, and Matthew sighed. Never getting away with one damn thing was another major problem with this relationship.

"No, because it's not pleasant, nice, nor needed," Matthew said, practically reciting it from memory.

"How would that make you feel if I did it?" Rolf asked, hearing the parrot tone and not happy with it, much as he understood the short fuse and misery under Matthew's tone.

"I wouldn't liiiiiikkkeee it." He tried to keep the whine out but it crept in anyway.

Understanding, as only he could, what not liking would involve for Matthew, Rolf accepted that with shared meaning. "No. And I don't like it either, which is why we don't allow it. It's not going to happen. Done. The end. And I don't care what you have to miss or how mad you have to get in order to be clear on that."

Matthew felt the pillow from the back of the couch fall against his head. Rolf wasn't in the room, but the entire lecture still made him feel as bad as it would have in person, and being face down on the couch and under the pillow didn't make him feel any safer. "I didn't mean it and I'm sorrryy."

"I know you didn't mean it." Rolf said softly. "I always know you don't mean it. But that isn't the point, that is never going to be the point and I'm not afraid of you getting mad about it. I don't care a damn about hockey. I care a lot about not having rows with you where one of us ends up hurt or running any risk of damaging us. So being mad is not an excuse for ignoring being grounded and going out to a match you were told not to be at."

There wasn't anything much to be said about that. As was usually the case, Matthew could talk in circles for hours, yet Rolf always made sure the conversation got back to the same place, which always ended up being the first step to take on the way down the plank.

"Who else was involved this evening?" Rolf said after a moment when it was clear that Matthew had no reply to make.

Knowing that Eric would have made sure everyone knew, there wasn't a point to lie. "Everyone was there, we all had tickets."

"And did they know you weren't supposed to be there?"

"Chris did," Matthew finally ventured when the silence got too long.

"And the others didn't?"

"Mike didn't. I....I'm not sure about Todd."

That basically meant yes.

"Not good is it?" Rolf said mildly.

"No," Matthew said expressively.

"No." Rolf echoed, snapping his phone shut in the kitchen doorway.

Matthew pulled the phone away from his ear, confused for a minute by the dial tone. When two and two finally added up to four, his finger slowly worked it's way over to the talk button and he pressed it, ending the annoying buzzing before he even more slowly worked his way up to a sitting position.

Rolf stood where he was in the darkness of the kitchen doorway, phone still in his hand. All of Matthew's early bravado or anger had now worked its way into a soft ball-sized lump in the pit of his stomach, making him feel very uncomfortable. It took a supreme effort to look over to the looming presence he was feeling. Save that it had Rolf's face. Fending his way out of the scattered cushions, Matthew struggled up from the couch and ran to throw himself into Rolf's arms, and nothing else mattered very much for a while.

~ The End~

Copyright Rolf and Ranger 2010

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